Bombing the Peace Process

Weeks of relative calm for Israelis ended Sunday in the chaos of explosions, screams and ambulance sirens. Twenty-three innocent people were killed and more than 100 injured in two suicide bombings minutes apart. Security forces have prevented many terror attacks in Israel and the occupied territories, but stopping all of them has, not surprisingly, proved impossible.

Israel's options in responding to the latest attacks were limited. It had already reoccupied cities previously under Palestinian control. In addition, the United States, Israel's main ally, urged restraint as Washington prepares for possible war with Iraq, because a rise in Arab nations' anger at Israel's treatment of the Palestinians would make them increasingly unwilling or reluctant allies against Baghdad.

On Monday, Israel continued military operations in Gaza and shut three Palestinian universities it said were breeding grounds for terrorism. Unfortunately, it also barred Palestinian leaders from leaving the country for talks scheduled in London next week. Washington called the travel ban regrettable. Britain also protested.

The London talks will include the U.S., the United Nations, Russia and the European Union, which will discuss how to root out corruption in Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority, a main demand of Washington. Arafat would not have attended for fear that Israel would not let him return, but the presence of some of his top aides could have given Palestinians a higher diplomatic profile than Israel wanted them to have.

A guerrilla movement linked to Arafat's Fatah organization claimed responsibility for the Tel Aviv bombings, and it ultimately deserves blame for pushing Israel to stop the travelers. But Israel's ban effectively gives the terrorists control of the peace process.

The Palestinian Authority condemned the bombings and Arafat's supporters claim they cannot stop all terrorism, even by factions claiming to act in his name. The truth of the bombers' sponsorship is slippery, but young men wrapped in explosives should not be permitted to kill the last shreds of a peace process along with their victims.

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